The pair needed a week to make their way south to Busan. Zin would have made far better time were he alone. Even with Leona trying her best to keep up, Zin availed himself to short breaks and constantly had to shorten his stride.
Leona nearly killed herself trying to keep up. When the hunter and his companion ran into a monster along the way, it was the hunter who decided whether fight or flight was appropriate.
They ran into a few points and towns on the road. Zin and Leona were not allowed entry, however, as nobody was in need of a hunter.
“Not a scrap of humanity.”
“The smaller the town, the more backwater it is. Ard Point was the exception.”
“Maybe everyone thinks we’re slaughters? It may be strange that you have a little kid like me with you.”
“It’s good to be cautious.”
Leona was pissed that they were turned away from the last town. She held up her middle finger to all the onlooking townspeople until she and Zin were out of sight.
“Sons of bitches! I hope you have a good life!” shouted Leona, who added a spit to her cheer-like insult. The two had resorted to eating monster meat again due to a lack of better options. The towns were completely unreceptive to their situation.
“Picky picky child you are” said Zin.
“Actually I’m not really picky. But what you make me do is just, it’s just, yea you know.”
“What did you eat when you were on your own before? You must’ve eaten something, seeing as how you didn’t starve.”
“I ate some grass, plants, you know, that kind of stuff. I couldn’t hunt monsters - not did I want to.”
“It may taste like shit, but you have to eat things that help you grow This meat checks that box. You’ve put on a bit of weight since travelling with me. You weren’t eating right before that.”
Leona was slowly adding a bit of flesh to her skinny arms and legs. Zin wasn’t one to skip meals, and while Leona wasn’t exactly willing to eat the same things as Zin, she was getting the protein and fat she needed to grow. She was getting healthier.
“I am definitely less tired than before…”
It’s not surprising that she was getting healthier, as she was going from eating grass to a bit of meat. Zin made sure to feed her meat that, while tasted like crap, wasn’t harmful and would help her grow.
“And what the hell. I think I’m getting used to it,” said Leona, smiling. There was no use in feeling down. She knew she had to be positive. Mood and emotion play a big role in health - at least that’s what Leona believed. Zin laughed at Leona’s comment.
“Well then I’d say today calls for a bit of dog meat fried in ghoul oil.”
“....really? Are you doing that on purpose?!?” asked Leona covering her mouth, visibly annoyed. Zin elaborated calmly,
“It’s got all the nutrients you need to grow. You should be thankful.
“I think I’m gonna throw up, and I haven’t even tried it!”
“Throwing up the meat you ate yesterday cause of what you’re about to eat - that’d be fun to see.”
In the end, hesitant as she was, Leona could do nothing but eat whatever Zin gave her. Zin handed her the dog-meat ribs fried in ghoul oil. Leona took a bite of the meat, which she was sure must’ve been cooked in a devil’s cauldron. It was actually pretty edible, contrary to its appearance.
The two had eaten dinner a bit early, so they decided to hit the road for a bit before sundown.
“Where do you think Charl is?” asked Leona.
“Not sure. If she’s going where we’re going, we may end up meeting again.” Zin didn’t want to let on that he was sure that Charl was heading toward BMCP. Charl may have arrived first. Or maybe she was delayed and the pair would arrive first. The only thing Zin wasn’t sure of what how Charl would react when they did meet.
“Hmmmm” muttered Leona, gazing at her surroundings. There were in an area that seemed to be some kind of downtown. Here there weren’t any fields of grass or wide open spaces - rather, they were surrounded by abandoned buildings.
“Be careful where you step. There could be sinkholes” said Zin. Cities could be more dangerous than the wild sometimes. This was especially true of older cities - where sinkholes were prone to develop in areas where subway tunnels and other underground facilities were left to rot. All you had to do to fall into one was make one wrong step.
Leona and Zin had come across a few huge crevasse-like holes already. Just like anthills are cut vertically into the dirt, the hideous remnants of the city could be seen jutting out of the ground wherever you looked.
“This is exactly how my hometown looks” said Leona.
“Is that right?”
“Yeah. A couple kids fell into holes when they were off playing. Never saw ‘em again. I know about sinkholes. Don’t worry.”
Zin and Leona proceeded through the city, with sinkholes flanking their precarious path forward. Both paid close attention to each and every step.
“Kids going off to play in a town like this...jesus.” They must’ve had a death wish to do something so crazy, thought Zin.
“That’s just what kids do. Every day. Have you heard of the game ‘treasure hunter?’”
“Treasure hunter?” asked Zin. He thought finding treasure among trash heaps and crumbling buildings was an odd combination.
“There are some good things out there if you look hard enough. Things adults don’t want.”
“Dolls or toys...hairpins, kids’ clothing, shoes. All kinds of stuff. Things that adults don’t care about but are important to kids.” said Leona, pointing to a broken window amongst the fallen buildings. That’s the kind of place kids go looking for treasure.
They go looking for kids’ treasures. There were tons of treasures like that in the world, since adults had no interest in them.
“You know what the best treasures are? Things like plastic robots. Even better if they can transform. The minute someone finds one of those - kids go insane. It’s no joke. Everyone tries to rip each other to shreds to get the robot. After all is said and done the robot’s destroyed. The other kids think, ‘if I can’t have it, neither can you.’ Then everyone cries and throws a fit. The next day, everyone goes back to finding treasure like nothing happened….stupid right?” said Leona, laughing as she recalled her past. Silly and dumb kids. Zin replied,
“Wow, there was a time when you played with other kids…”
Leona’s expression turned dark for a moment. Before her father threw her out, she got along well with other kids. Thinking about that time in her life made her happy, unexpectedly albeit.
“I’m a kid too. I played a lot when I was younger. But that’s silly and something kids do, right? So I stopped,” said Leona, trying to look happy and upbeat. Zin knew she was lying, but didn’t press her. She’s still a kid. And a kid reminiscing about a past filled with nothing good - that wasn’t the prettiest picture.
In order for cities to most effectively use whatever limited space they have, they dig and make space that wasn’t there to begin with. That’s what cities do - use the least amount of space as efficiently as possible.
As time goes by these cities get old and start to crumble. Once they’ve collapse all that’s left are the bones of architecture. You’ve got to watch your step in places like this - you never know when the ground is going to collapse beneath you. Mountains, fields, and the wild are safe, like the stable ground they’re built on.
The countless shadowy, hidden spots in cities offer hideouts, normally to humans. Sometimes, however, monsters use these spots to lay in wait for prey. The nooks and crannies that are inevitable in a crumbling city offer a serviceable hiding place, to monsters and humans alike.
When you’re in the wild, you’ve got to keep an eye on your north, south, east, and west. In a city, you can add to that the spaces above and below you.
‘This was a pretty small city; don’t think there will be much here…’ thought Zin. He was taking in his surroundings as he strolled through the fallen city. The sun was just beginning to set. The two would soon have to find a safe place between the fallen buildings to spend the night. Leona and Zin walked along until the sun had set completely. There was no sign of monsters, only stray cats strolling back and forth, letting out low meows every now and then.
Then, Leona let out a sudden shout.
“Nothing...it’s just that this place…” said Leona, looking around as she bit her lower lip.
“It looks familiar” said Leona, pointing to a fallen statue. It was a statue of somebody - although decades of fading made learning that fact impossible. Leona seemed to recognize the statue as a kind of signpost. Zin had an idea what Leona was thinking.
“Is this your hometown?”
“It started to look familiar a little while back. I thought I must be wrong, since all cities kind of look the same. But seeing this….”
There was something carved into the statue. It read ‘Mokgol.’
“You said that you didn’t want to come back to your hometown, right?”
“No, that’s not what I meant…” started Leona, as she started to look around in the surrounding darkness with a bit more earnest.
“If we’ve already made it to the statue, that means we should be right in the center of the town.” There wasn’t a light in sight. They were surrounded by complete darkness. They had already come to the center of town. There was no sign of the town entrance, let alone any signs of people at all. The only sounds coming from the town were the cries of stray cats. Zin didn’t remember crossing over anything that resembled a trash wall, either.
Leona’s hometown must not have had a trash wall. Leona let out a small laugh as she stared at the statue.
“Looks like everyone must have died” said Leona, shrugging her shoulders. There was no trace of sadness, anger, or even relief in the gesture. They had arrived at her hometown, which at some recent point in time had been returned to ruin.
“It happens a lot I guess” said Leona.
“Must’ve happened a while ago, seeing as there are no bodies.” It could have been monsters. It could have been slaughters. Either way, anything of value was gone from the small town.
“I’m pretty familiar with the place...now that the sun’s gone down, how about resting here?” asked Leona.
“We do need to rest” answered Zin. He was once again surprised by Leona’s nerve. Suggesting that they rest in her completely destroyed hometown - that’s not something most people would do. Most people would get out of there as soon as possible, whether it be due to sadness, gloominess, or fear. Leona didn’t betray her emotions, however. She even went on to add to this dynamic,
“If the town was destroyed by monsters and not slaughters, I know a place that might have some chips” said Leona laughing. Zin nodded his head in pleasure.
“Ok!” The two didn’t have much in common, but they did share one main trait. If an appropriate situation arose, both were not above becoming scavengers.
Leona chose the fourth floor of a large supermarket as their resting spot.
“The other buildings are so close to collapse. It’s best if we find a high floor in a good building. This is the highest floor we can get. I think a lot of buildings have already collapsed.”
While the wind did blow in generously through the broken windows, Leona understood that it was an advantage to be in a higher place than everyone else. Zin was continually surprised by her Leona’s survival instincts.
Leona took care of scouting the area, as she knew it well. Zin was in charge of the nightwatch. He kept an eye out for any approaching monsters or slaughters. Zin watched from the fourth floor as Leona went scooting out the first floor doors.
She had only been on her own in the wild for a few years. Her hometown Mokgol seems to have been destroyed quite a while ago. Anything of value would have been taken long ago, and any food would be spoiled by now.
While he was only on the fourth floor, Zin could see into the distance in any direction. All the other tall buildings had already collapsed. Zin could see better than others in the darkness, even if he wasn’t at the level of wild animals. While his vision was only slightly better than a person with excellent vision, that discrepancy sometimes made all the difference in the world.
‘Stray cats have taken over here,’ thought Zin, slowing nodding his head as he watched the stray cats walking back and forth in the darkness. Stray dogs won’t bark out of fear of humans, as long as you don’t incite them. There was no sign of stray dogs here, who on occasion form groups to hunt for food. Zin decided that they could eat some cat meat tonight, but first decided to wait for Leona’s return before thinking of dinner.
‘It actually may not be a good idea to hunt cats here.’ While weak, some cats possess psychic powers. Cats are even used in a few meaningful spells. It’s not a good idea to hunt animals with psychic powers in a place haunted by death. That was even more true in a place dripping with cats, no dogs in sight.
Most likely nothing would happen. But Zin always chose caution over going down an uncertain path. The relationship between superstition and reality slowly began to fade once monsters made their appearance on earth. Some superstitions became true, while other realities became lies.
Science had become just one of many religions. It was no longer the prevailing power ruling the minds of the masses. Zin didn’t know what to believe at times, but he had been witness to the disaster that superstition can engender. He knew of at least a few things to avoid.
Just then, a sharp noise came ringing in Zin’s ears.
The noise was coming from far away, but Zin could pinpoint its direction immediately.
It was the cry of a nervous cat. Zin took out a monocular and eyed the location of the cry. It was dark, but thanks to the moonlight he could see well enough without night vision. Zin spotted a cat try and fail to scale the short wall of a crumbling building, an arrow sticking out of its side.
Five people, each carrying their own bows and quivers, had all shot and killed a stray cat. All five went up to their kill, pulled out the arrow, and returned it to the quiver.